We get asked this question on home inspections all the time. The simple answer is… yes you really should have gutters.
You would think with all the flooding rains we get in Central Florida, that gutters would be commonplace. However, a huge portion of homes still have little to no guttering. The fact that Florida has a sandy soil and most moisture is absorbed quickly without homeowners seeing the ponding may be the reason for this. Or, it may be that builders are trying to save on costs and decided that gutters are not important. Whatever the case may be, we always recommend having gutters installed and maintained at all lower eaves of your home.
Let’s say you have good grading and plenty of slope around your home. Should you still have gutters?
As with any other system in your home, the real problems are usually the ones you CAN’T see. In Florida we have a very sandy soil. This allows it to absorb a lot of moisture. However, it is also very easily eroded. Erosion underneath your home can cause all kinds of costly issues from foundation settlement to structural failure. Properly installed gutters with downspouts and extensions will carry the bulk of the storm water away from the home and prevent long term erosion.
Another benefit to gutters is, because the storm water is being carried away to downspouts, it keeps everyone from getting rainwater dumped directly off the roof onto them as they walk in the home. It also keeps flower beds and shrubs from getting washed out.
One thing that people don’t typically think about when it comes to gutters is that without them, rainwater will tend to run down the side of the fascia (eaves) and also down the side of the home. This in turn can cause moisture intrusion into the wall, which can lead to rot and mold. Think of it like a cup that has a loose lid. When the cup is tipped, the liquid runs down the side and gets everywhere!
We all know that water follows the path of least resistance. Properly installed gutters with downspouts and extensions provide a perfect path for storm water and ultimately will help maintain your home for years to come!
Most HVAC specialists recommend that the refrigerant line on your AC be insulated. But what does that mean?
First, let’s talk about what the refrigerant lines do.
A typical residential AC unit has two copper lines that exit the building and run into the condenser unit. One is called the “warm” line or “liquid” line. This line is typically smaller, and it carries the refrigerant in a liquid form and sheds heat as it moves. This line is not typically insulated because it must get rid of heat.
The other line is called the “cold” line or “suction” line. This is the larger line, carries a cooled vapor and should be insulated.
What happens if the line is not insulated?
When the insulation begins to fail, more and more energy is lost and usually it makes your equipment work harder to maintain temperature. Insulation protects against condensation and helps maintain moisture control. If moisture penetrates the insulation, surrounding the cold pipe, energy is lost and can even lead to freezing. This in turn can lead to bigger problems down the road.
Typically, the insulation used in this application is a rubberized or foam material and is low cost. An HVAC professional can install it quickly and easily.
Don’t get caught with AC problems that can escalate. Make sure to check your suction line at least once a year, especially in Florida where the UV index can get pretty high. Insulation can become damaged quickly by high UV. In all my years doing home inspections, I have never seen this insulation last for extended times. Just add this to your home maintenance list!
Last week, my wife and I were putting our sons to bed and found a large damaged area of drywall on the wall. My first thought was that the boys had put a hole in the wall from rough housing. But, I looked closer and found that the wall was wet. The floor was also wet and the wood laminate was beginning to buckle and warp. Not something any of us like to see. My first thought was “oh great I have a plumbing leak”. But, I realized there is no plumbing in that area. Cross that off the list. Upon further investigation, I found some small cracks on the exterior stucco of our home just opposite of the wet area. Small cracks can lead to big problems. Especially somewhere as wet as Florida! Many people don’t realize that it only takes very small cracks to allow moisture intrusion. Which can then lead to bigger issues down the road.
So when should cracks in your stucco be repaired?
Stucco is after all a concrete product, which means it will crack at some point.
There are a few different types of cracks. They range in shape, size and meaning. Here are a few of the main types of cracks on your stucco and what they mean.
Hair line cracks:
This type of cracking is typical and will almost certainly occur. But, there is still a risk of moisture intrusion even from these tiny cracks. Consider using an elastomeric sealant to seal these cracks and then paint over to create another moisture barrier.
This is when the cracking spreads out like a spider web in all directions. This is typically caused by a poor initial installation of the stucco. This could eventually lead to stucco failure or the stucco coming loose at the home. A stucco contractor would be able to tell if the stucco is failing and if it needs to be repaired or re-applied.
If the stucco is cracking in patterns, this again is most likely due to poor installation of the stucco or “lathe” underneath. Consider consulting a stucco contractor.
Peeling or flaking stucco usually means the stucco already has moisture behind it and is failed or failing and will most likely need to be removed and replaced by a stucco contractor.
This type of cracking could be a sign of minor to major settlement, or could be a sign of shrinkage between blocks if the home is block construction. If the cracks are very wide, a masonry specialist could be consulted to determine if it is just shrinkage and can be repaired or “tuck-pointed” or if there is a structural issue.
Lateral or structural cracking:
Typically if a crack is wider on one side than the other, it means the structure is moving somehow and is almost always a sign of some sort of structural settlement. If the cracks are showing signs of displacement, consider hiring a structural engineer to determine if the home is continuing to settle over time. If the home settles too significantly, it could cause very large and expensive repairs later.
A few more tips on how to maintain stucco cracking and prevent bigger issues later on:
Seal any cracks you see or hire a professional to seal those for you. Remember, even hairline cracks can allow moisture intrusion.
Make sure your sprinkler systems aren’t spraying directly onto the home. This condition introduces moisture directly to areas that could have cracks. It can also wear down the stucco, actually causing cracks.
Consider installing gutters at the lower eaves around the entire home if you do not have gutter already. Gutters carry storm water away from the home and distributes it safely away from the home.
If you already have gutters, make sure to clean them at least twice a year. When debris builds up inside gutters, it causes them to overflow and it can flow backwards onto the stucco. Blocked gutters can also damage the gutters themselves due to rust or excessive weight.
Do your own mini home inspection for your stucco once or twice a year, so that you know as soon as problems arise and you can fix it before it becomes a big issue.
All Florida homes need regular upkeep and maintenance during the year. One of the systems in your home that especially needs regular maintenance is your HVAC system. “HVAC” stands for “Heating Ventilation & Air Conditioning”. We may not use heat for much of the year in Florida, but even your cooling system will use some sort of “Air Handler” that will need regular maintenance. One of the simplest parts of maintaining your HVAC system is to change the filter regularly. This is needed for several reasons and can really spell trouble if the filter is not changed regularly.
So, what is the purpose of a filter?
The filter catches all the dirt and airborne contaminants in the air to keep us healthier right? Well… yes, but that is really just a happy side effect of its real job, despite what most people are led to believe. The real function of the filter in your HVAC system IS to trap airborne contaminants, but not primarily to maintain air quality. The main purpose of catching all that debris is to keep it from going into your system.
How often do I need to change my filter?
This is different from system to system and filter to filter. The home itself can also impact how often you should change your filter. If you go to your local hardware store where the filters are located you will see a wide range of different types, sizes, thicknesses and uses. Changing your filter should be done anywhere from once a month to almost once a year. The filter thickness and manufacturer recommendations will tell you how often it needs to be changed. Here is a very rough guide on how often each type of filter should be changed:
Filters at 1-2 inches thick should be replaced every 1-3 months.
Filters at 3-4 inches thick should be replaced every 6-9 months.
Filters at 5-6 inches thick should be replaced every 9-12 months.
Other variables that can affect how often you should change your filter are:
The amount of people in the household: More people living in the home generates more debris and contaminates. This means in a large household; the filter should be changed more often.
Pets: This is a big contributor to the amount of contaminates in the air as well. Pets shed fur and dander and can decrease the life of your filter.
Indoor Air Quality: If a home already has issues with indoor air quality, the filter will pick up a large amount of contaminates and will not last as long either. If your filter is becoming blocked very quickly, consider having an HVAC specialist add an air purifier.
Allergies: If there are people in the household who suffer from allergies or asthma, the filter may need to be changed more often to accommodate those more sensitive people. There are also special allergy sensitive filters you can get to help with this even more.
The frequency of use: In Florida, we tend to run our AC pretty frequently. If you are someone that likes it really cool inside, this could cause the filter to need changing more often as well.
Putting off easy maintenance could lead to big and complicated problems.
When you forget to change the filter in your system for too long, problems can arise pretty quickly. Here are just a few things that happen when the filter is too dirty:
HVAC System Damage
There are a large number of mechanical and electronic components inside the HVAC system that can be damaged or blocked when debris settles inside the unit.
When filters are dirty and blocked, it causes the unit the work harder because the air is not moving properly through the unit. This uses more energy and stresses the unit which can damage or decrease the useful life of the system.
A blocked filter restricts airflow which can cause the internal temperature inside the unit to rise, causing the system to overheat. This in turn can cause components to fail or become damaged.
When too many contaminates flow through the system, they can become lodged in the condensate removal components. These could be drain lines, condensate pumps or could even spill into the home. This is a common occurrence in Florida due to the high humidity.
Poor Personal Comfort & Low Air Quality
When the filter is blocked the air will not flow through the home properly and can cause difficulty in maintaining the desired temperature consistently through the home.
A blocked filter cannot trap contaminates as easily and the current contaminates will stay in the air, causing discomfort or allergy flare ups.
Don’t Forget Another Filter Change!
Changing your HVAC filter is a very important maintenance task for you and your system! It’s easy for everyone to forget to change the filter. But you should make it a priority to check your filter once a month to make sure it’s in good shape. If the filter is completely covered with contaminants, it’s time to change your filter.
A few ways to help you remember to check your filter is to mark your calendar for once a month, set a reminder on your phone or link the task of changing your filter with paying your utility bill. Don’t pay the bill until you check the filter!
Do yourself and your HVAC system a favor and remember to change your filter!